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Photography Class
Bong S. Eliab
First Semester
Humanities Division
School of Arts and Sciences
Ateneo de Davao University

Syllabus | NotesPapers | Projects

by Arnold John Kaplan, APSA-AFIAP

Your eyes are the windows of the world around you. They are miraculous objects that allow you to observe the things before you. How many people taking pictures actually use their eyes correctly? In photography they are a tool of the trade and just as important as your camera and lenses.

You must learn how to combine your camera’s lens with your eyes and make them act as a single unit to make the camera take images of what you see.

This ability to find and photograph interesting subjects correctly is called:


Millions of people have cameras but how many of them really use their eyes to take pictures. Most of them just point the camera, look through the viewfinder just to make sure something is in the viewfinder and press the shutter release, usually with a jerk and hope for the best. They have no idea of what is going to be in the picture besides the objects they looked at.

The serious Amateur and Professional Photographers will use their eyes to view the scene objectively. They will examine it for the best way to photograph it before they even look through the camera’s viewfinder. They know they must observe all the important things in the scene and eliminate any objectionable items that will spoil the beauty or intent of the photograph.

The “Art Of Seeing’ will make you aware of these things and when you look through your camera’s viewfinder you will THINK before you take the picture.

Next time you are at a place that has pictorial possibilities don’t start taking pictures at once. LOOK AROUND FIRST. Take a few moments to examine the complete photographic scene and situation. Walk around to find the best possible Angle to shoot the scene. Find your Main Subject or Center of Interest.

Watch for disturbing items in the Foreground and Background. Keep your eyes open to prevent people from walking into the view of the camera and spoil the image. All these things will become automatic as you learn them.

CENTER OF INTEREST:- The most important thing is to have something of interest in your photograph. Something your eye will go to, something to hold the eye in the picture area, once the eye gets in to the picture.

It can be a person, an animal, a building, a design of nature or anything that interests you can be your Center Of Interest. However, you should have only one main object, idea, thought or theme message in the picture to keep the eye interested. above all try to keep is simple as the eye will get confused and tired if the main subject is too busy.

If there are two interesting items in the picture area try to make one of them a little more dominant than the other. Make sure that the dominant one is more important than the less dominant one, otherwise the eye will be obligated to reject both of them as being confusing.

Once you get the eye in the picture area you want to keep it in there to move around and enjoy the photograph. In order to do that you have to have eye stopper to prevent the eye from going out of the picture frame. A large tree on the right side of the picture frame will keep the eye from going out on that side.
Some nice interesting clouds in the sky area will prevent the eye from going out of the top and something in the bottom foreground will block that area. Try to keep the left hand area of the picture frame clear as that is where the eye will try to enter the picture most of the time.

LOOK AROUND FIRST:- When you come upon something that interests you, STOP and LOOK AROUND. Don’t start shooting at once, unless it is a grab shot or something that will not stay still. If the subject matter will be there for awhile hen you must take your time and look for the best lighting, best angle and the best center of interest.

THE WAITING GAME:- Photography is a ‘Waiting Game’. You are waiting for things to happen so you can take good photos. If nothing is happening there are no good photo opportunities. You have to be very patient and wait at a scene, or place for something to happen that will make your photograph. Sometimes it may take hours or days but the good photographer will stick it out to get the picture.

They call this the ‘Decisive Moment’ or the exact split second that the event happens and you have to be ready to snap the shutter to catch the action. Some of the most famous photographs were taken by French street photographers who took the first ‘candid’ photos in the early 1900’s and those photos are still published and exhibited all over the World.

A FIGURE IN THE SCENE:- It always helps to have a figure in the scene for several reasons. It gives scale to out door scenics. Without the figure you could not tell how tall the trees. mountains or buildings were. The figure adds interest as you want to know and see what the figure is doing. The figure does not have to be human, it could be and animal that is familiar to you.

The human figure can add color to the scene by wearing brightly colored clothing, thus making it an eye catcher to hold the eye in the picture frame.

LEAD THE EYE INTO THE PICTURE EASILY:- This is one of the most important rules in photography. The eye will go into the picture area at the lower left hand corner most every time. This is because we have been taught to read from left to right.

Since this is a fact you should always try to keep the left side of the picture area open and clear of anything that will block the eye from entering in that area. If you place a tree if the extreme left area of the picture it would block the eye from getting into the picture easily and the eye would have to look around for another way to enter the picture. It may get confuse or tired and lose interest in the photo.

Leading lines help the eye to get into a picture but make sure the leading line is on the left side of the picture frame. If it is on the right hand side of the picture you will find that the eye will pick it up in the picture and follow it right OUT of the picture.

Leading lines can be many things. The most common are roads, paths and rivers. However, many other items can make leading lines: a heavy rope from a ship to the dock, a breakwater made of rocks, a line of boats, cloud formations, animals or people in a line, a row of flowers, the Sun’s rays or a rainbow. All these constitute leading lines for the eye to follow.

LIGHT:- The best light for taking a dramatic photograph is early morning or late afternoon. This light is called the ‘Golden Light’ and it only occurs right after sunrise or just before sunset. It is a warn Orange-Yellow light that gives a ‘Golden Glow’ to everything it touches. It has the quality to change ordinary scenes in to beautiful golden vistas that the professional photographers are
always looking for.

The Kodak instruction book tells the Public picture snapper to take their photographs between 10:00am and 2:00pm because Kodak film is made for this Cold Blue Light that comes down from the sky between these hours. Good photographers know they should avoid taking any scenic photographs between 10:00am and 2:00pm because they don’t want the cold blue light in their images.

Good photographers know they should take outdoor photographs BEFORE 10:00am and AFTER 2:00pm to get the warm yellow-orange light needed for better images. They know, in order to get the nice ‘Golden Light’, they have to be all set up and ready to shoot, as this ‘Golden Light’ only lasts a short time

GET IN CLOSER:- Many a Main Subject was lost in the picture area because you were too far away, so get in closer and fill the frame with the Main Subject material. This may not be easy if there are obstacles in the way, such as a body of water, a highway, a deep crevasse, etc.

In these cases you will have to use your telephoto lenses to bring the Main Subject closer so it can be seen clearly in the picture frame. A telephoto lens should be powerful enough to do the job. Today many of the Zoom lenses have the power to do the job. A great Zoom lens is the 28mm to 200mm. With this one lens you will be able to cover most any situation from scenics to sports. It allows you to travel light as this lens takes the place of several fixed lenses.

LOOK FOR THE RIGHT ANGLE:- The snapshooter will arrive on a scene and start shooting at once without any thought of finding the best spot from which to take the picture. The photographer will arrive at a scene and will Stop, Look Around and Walk Around to find the best ‘spot’ (angle) from which to take the picture. A good photographer will not only stop to look and walk around but will check the lighting conditions and if necessary wait around until the ‘light is right’.

WATCH TH LIGHT AND SHADOWS:- Once you find the best ‘angle’ to shoot the photo be sure to watch out for the light and shadows. Don’t let your Main Subject of Interest be in a shadow area or you will lose most of the detail in the shadows. Watch out for clouds passing over the Sun just as you snap the shutter as that condition will make your scene and picture “Dull’ looking as most good scenics need bright Sunlight. Remember, you need early morning or late afternoon Golden Light to make a successful photo.

You can also use the Clouds and Sun to spotlight your main subject of interest. That is have the Sun come through the clouds and light up and spotlight the Main Subject only. while the rest of the scene is dulled down in the shadows created by the Clouds. This type of lighting is unusual and makes great photographs especially if there are very dark storm clouds.

DIVIDING A PICTURE IN HALF:- This is a real, honest to goodness, NO, NO in photographic composition. Good photographers NEVER divide a picture in half unless it is done for some special effect or a darn good reason.   If you are photographing a scene with land area and sky area keep the land and sky masses uneven. Either have more land area and less sky area, or more sky area and less land area, depending upon the scene.

When the sky is un-interesting and just plain blue, without any white, clouds it is considered as ‘bald’ as a plain white sky. Under these conditions you should show less of the sky area and more of the land area.

COME BACK AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN:- You may have to come back to a picture area again and again to catch the Main Subject under the best lighting conditions depending on the time of year. Remember good photo spots and come back again and again to shoot them when the ‘light is right’.

BUSY, BUSY, BUSY:- A photograph can be ruined by being too Busy by having too many things going on in the picture frame. If you have too many centers of interest’ in one picture it makes it too confusing to the eye and the eye will get tired as it will have no place to stop to enjoy the picture. It is not only too many objects that can spoil a picture, it can be too many ‘colors’ also. A lot of color, such as a hillside of colorful fall foliage, is the same as ‘no’ color to your eye as it has no place to stop and enjoy the image.

If that same hillside of colorful fall foliage had a farm house or barn among the trees, then the center of interest would change to these objects and the colorful trees would just add to the scene. Avoid very busy subject matter if possible. If you cannot, try to find one object in the scene that you can make stand out more than all the other objects to become your ‘Center Of Interest’.

ELIMINATE DISTURBING OBJECTS:- Such as telephone wire in the sky area; vapor trails from Jet airplanes; snowmobile tracks in fresh fallen snow; a snow covered country road that has been plowed: messed up of disturbed snow after a snow fall; tree branches and roof tops  without any snow in a snow scene. These types of disturbing situations should be avoided by changing your angle of view, time of day or come back again when conditions are good.

These are small things a successful photographer knows to lookout for before taking the picture. If you did not take the time to check the scene you will be wasting a lot of money on film that will not produce good or salable photographs. The photo judges or editors know what to look for in a successful image and if they find any of these ‘boners’ they will reject the photograph.

FOREGROUNDS:- This area is one of the most important parts of the picture frame. It is the first thing you see when you look at a picture and should be free and clear of anything that is disturbing.

Here are some of the things that can be found in the foreground area of a photograph that will ruin the image, unless you have a reason for it to be there: beer or soft drink cans, bottles, newspapers, rubbish, or other small items dropped or thrown into the picture area.

The “Foreground is the welcome mat of your photograph and you must keep it clean and beautiful. The good photographer will check the foreground very carefully and remove any disturbing objects before the picture is taken. Sometimes you may have to add items to the foreground to make a successful photo such as leaves or snow on a bare road in a Fall or Winter scene.

People can also mess up your Foreground by walking into the picture area just as you press the shutter release cable. The resulting image may show someone’s arm, leg, head of half a body coming in or going out of the picture frame. Keep your second eye open to prevent anyone from coming into your picture area. Either wait for them to pass by or ask them to stop until you take
the picture.

BACKGROUNDS:- Keep your ‘Backgrounds’ as neat and clean as you can. Watch out for ‘hot spots’, very bright spots of light coming through the trees as these will attract the eye away from the center of interest and become very annoying.

Backgrounds can also have tin cans and bottle so you have to keep your eyes alert for anything that does not look right. Also watch out for passing autos, bike riders, joggers, people walking, etc. as any one of these things can ruin the image.

BALD SKIES:- Bald heads like bald skies have something missing. A bald sky usually is an uninteresting sky without clouds, sunrise or sunset. Even a plain bright blue sky can be considered as bald, as it is not interesting. The worst type of bald sky is the plain white sky caused by high clouds.

When you run into any of these Bald Sky situations it is better not to include the sky in the picture if you can. If you have to include a bald sky try to find a tree branch or anything else and use it to block out part of the upper section of the sky. In other words, ‘Frame’, the picture with the tree branch to cut out part of the uninteresting sky. You will find you can save many photographs by using this method

FRAME IT:- One very successful way of making a photo more interesting is to ‘Frame It’. Not the regular solid picture frame around the photograph when you hang it on a wall but a method of ‘Framing’ the picture at the time it is taken.

Framing is when you shoot through a doorway or window and have part of the doorway or window around the picture area so that it will ‘Frame’ the image. You can use a standing tree with a overhanging branch as a ’Frame’ in scenic photos. Many things can make up the ‘Frame’ and they will add interest to the picture.

HORIZONTAL OR VERTICAL FORMAT:- Some subjects will look better in the ’Vertical Format’ so don’t be afraid to turn your camera around and shoot vertical photographs. In fact if you plan to sell photographs, remember the page of a book or magazine is in the ‘Vertical Format’ and publishers want pictures to fit this format.

The “Horizontal Format’ is use most of the time by people using a camera because it is the natural way to hold the camera. In fact some people do not know or realize that you can turn the camera around to the ‘Vertical Format”. Most pictures taken today are in the ‘Horizontal Format’ and many scenes fit this format perfectly. Any wide scenic should be taken in the horizontal format. A group of people fits the horizontal format but a singe portrait should be taken
in the ‘Vertical Format’.

REVERSE IT:- Don’t be afraid to take a picture that has an object on the wrong side of the picture frame. When you have a print made you can ask the photo lab to reverse the negative as long as it does not have any printing in the scene. A color slide can be reverse in the projector to show the image the way you envisioned it.

THAT EXTRA TOUCH:- Always be on the look out for that ‘Extra Touch’ in a scene, something out of the ordinary that will add ’oomph’ to the image. A seagull flying through a bald sky will add that ‘Extra Touch’. A farm scene with cows coming home adds to the picture. A baby’s smile and twinkle of the eyes makes the picture worthwhile. In sports photography, if you catch a
‘decisive moment’ you added ‘that extra touch’.

USE THE RIGHT FILM:- Think a little before you buy your next roll of film. Different color slide films give different results so take the time to test various slide film to get exactly what you want. Film for prints (negative film) are not as critical as color slide film. The color in ‘color prints’ depends on the lab operator. You can send the same color negative to three different color labs and the three prints you receive back will be different as to color quality.

 Copyright 1997 by Arnold John Kaplan, APSA-AFIAP
All Rights Reserved



Syllabus | NotesPapers | Projects


All Rights Reserved 2001
Ateneo de Davao University
13 December 2002